06 February 2014, The Tablet

England and Wales survey under wraps as Germans reveal surprises

by James Macintyre and Christa Pongratz-Lippitt

Some 16,500 responses have been received by the Bishops’ Conference of England of Wales to a Vatican survey of Catholics’ views on same-sex marriage, contraception and communion for divorced and remarried couples. But their contents will not be revealed, unlike in Germany, where the responses showed a huge gap between church teaching and what Catholics believe and practise.

A spokesman said the bishops would not reveal the results of the consultation prior to next October’s extraordinary synod on the theme of marriage and the family.

He revealed that of the 16,500 completed questionnaires, 12,266 responses were completed online and of these, a majority were from laity of whom 69 per cent were married and 38 per cent were parents.

Twenty per cent of respondents were in positions of responsibility within the Church as priests, chaplains, catechists, teachers, deacons, seminarians, or pastoral assistants, the spokesman said. “Distribution across the age ranges was fairly even, though weighted towards the older generation,” he added.

But what the respondents wrote will be sent confidentially to the Vatican in “accordance with the wishes of the Holy See,” the spokesman explained. The English and Welsh bishops led the way by being the first to make the questionnaire available online. 

It is understood, however, that Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops appointed last year by Pope Francis, later requested that the results of the survey were not made public.

However, the German bishops this week released the survey’s findings, which showed that respondents in Germany want a radically new approach to family and on sexual morality on the part of the Church.

The Church’s teaching on such issues is seen as a “morality of prohibition pure and simple”, the bishops say. It is not accepted, because a “fundamental change and pluralisation of the definition of the family, as well as the privatisation of sexual morality and of human relationships as a whole” has taken place.

The responses to the questions showed that cohabitation before marriage and contraception are almost universally accepted. As they are not considered “sinful”, they are therefore not usually considered something to be confessed.

Baptised Catholics do not consider remarriage after divorce irregular. Most Catholics, including those who live in stable marriages, are “unable to understand” why the Church does not allow remarried divorcees to receive the Sacraments. As remarried divorcees do not consider their former marriages “null and void”, moreover, they consider annulments “dishonest”.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, who is also a member of the Council of Cardinals (C8said the Church must ask itself whether its message of liberation was being appropriately communicated.

But Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz on Tuesday said the responses to the Vatican questionnaire had “opened up a chance that we must take up at all levels. The responses oblige us to do so to a high degree”.

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99